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  • Writer's pictureSieske Valk

The difference between palliative and hospice care

Updated: Mar 23, 2023

We often use the terms palliative and hospice care interchangeably, as if they were the same.

But are they?

Photo by Jack Plant on Unsplash

As with hospice, we often associate palliative care with a dying being. This can be a human or a companion animal. At Autumn Animals we offer palliative and hospice care for companion animals, but the terms can apply to both human and non-human animals. For the sake of clarity however, I’ll continue to write about non-human animals.

In short, palliative care is treating the patient’s disease to elongate life and hospice care starts when you stop treating the disease and make sure the patient is comfortable and not in distress until they pass away.

Palliative care starts with the diagnosis of an illness. Let’s say you have a four-year-old cat that is very unlucky and diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. That cat will go into palliative care to treat the disease and maintain the best possible health and quality for that individual. Think, phosphate binders over food, upping oral fluid intake and a special diet. Additionally, one also needs to do regular blood and urine checks and can provide supplementary therapies such as herbs, acupuncture, and Traditional Chinese Medicine.

You can visualise ‘hospice care’ as the natural progression of palliative care. When the animal is too sick for the disease to be managed much longer and both the veterinarian and primary caregiver agree it’s time to stop treating the disease and keep the patient comfortable for as long as possible (or necessary in certain cases). In the case of the cat with kidney disease, you could think about giving the cat regular subcutaneous fluids to flush the blood and kidneys from built-up toxins, stopping the special renal diet and just giving the cat whatever food, it would like to eat and giving (stronger) pain relief that would otherwise not be given because of its long-term side-effects, with years of life ahead in mind (e.g. NSAID’s).

Perhaps a more fitting example is when a veterinarian and caregiver agree that a dog’s cancer is in a too advanced stage for chemotherapy to work and decide against that treatment, but instead opt for keeping the dog comfortable with pain relief, anti-nausea medication and supplementary therapies such as massage or Traditional Chinese Medicine.

In addition, hospice care also provides emotional, psychological, and sometimes spiritual support for the patient and their caregivers. For instance, in human hospice, carers sit in vigil with the dying patient to give caregivers respite and make sure that final wishes are seen to. In animal hospice, carers do the same but more with the caregiver in mind in addition to making sure the patient is comfortable and as pain-free as possible.

At Autumn Animals, we provide care for the animal from the first diagnosis until the final goodbye. Once an animal has been diagnosed by their primary veterinary surgeon, we work together with the vet and family to make sure the animal can live the rest of their life with optimal quality. We provide at home nursing care, in-home pet sitting to enable respite for the caregiver(s), supplementary therapies such as acupuncture and osteopathy and many more services. In addition, our own certified End of Life Doula for companion animals, will make sure that the caregiver(s) are being checked in with emotionally on a regular basis to make sure they take care of themselves, so they can continue to care for their furry friend. Finally, we offer Pet Bereavement support in the form of local talking groups with fellow grievers. Here, people who are mourning (the impending) loss of a beloved pet, can talk with, and listen to others who are going through similar experiences.

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